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"Mom, I kind of
like him"

"Mom, I kind of
like him"

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like him" " >

When I was 10 I asked my mother to buy me two record albums for my birthday. Two movie musical soundtracks (first clue). One was for the Oscar-winning Oliver!--a respectable enough choice, even today. The other was for the low-budget kids' film Pufnstuf, the big-screen version of a cheesy Saturday morning television show about a boy named Jimmy who is marooned on a magic island where a bumbling witch wants to get her hands on his golden flute. Pufnstuf starred British teen heartthrob Jack Wild, who was the Artful Dodger in Oliver! "I kind of like him," I remember telling my mother while we were shopping at the Meijer Thrifty Acres in Grand Rapids, Mich., circa 1970. It felt weird to say that out loud, although I didn't know why it should. I got the records, which I added to the Partridge Family and Donny Osmond albums I already had (second clue). I played the Pufnstuf soundtrack repeatedly and sang along to Mama Cass's song "Different": "Different is hard, different is lonely / Different is trouble for you only / Different is heartache, different is pain / But I'd rather be different than be the same." Mama Cass was singing about being an overweight witch. It didn't occur to me until years later that the song had a rather glaring gay subtext. It also didn't occur to me--nor, I suspect, to my mother--that my attraction to that "older man," Jack Wild, had anything to do with my future sexual identity. Digging Jack was a compelling orientation for my 10-year-old self, but it wasn't sexual. I didn't want to touch his flute or sneak kisses behind Pufnstuf's pad or settle down and adopt baby dragons together. I just wanted to be his best friend. ("A Friend in You" was another track on the Pufnstuf album.) By the time hormones hit, I'd put away Jack, Donny, and Keith Partridge in favor of Alice Cooper, David Bowie, and Elton John (third clue). When I developed a secret crush on a blond diver who rode the same bus to high school that I did, I finally got to thinking about something other than just being best friends. Most gay and lesbian adults have stories like this--clues to future sexuality that often have nothing to do with sex. Photographer Robert Trachtenberg has even compiled many of them in a highly entertaining new book called When I Knew (featured in our May 24 issue). To us, these tales are proof enough that being gay is not a choice, that it's integral to our psychology and biology. They are not scientific proof, however. That's more complicated, and it's a quest to which many great minds are dedicating years of research, as this issue's cover story reports. As that story and our own personal stories show, sexuality is interwoven with so many aspects of our selves--including, apparently, our sense of smell--that it's unlikely to be attributable to any single gene or formative moment. And that's a good thing. Because while the discovery of genetic links to sexual identity may give us an "I told you so" satisfaction and perhaps a political too in fighting for equality, it should never supplant the joyful image of a little boy singing "I'd rather be different" along with Mama Cass.

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"Mom, I kind of
like him"

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